Over the years, I have wondered why, as an adoptive parent, I should have to share my story. Parents who grew their family through biological means don’t have to share. They may tell their birth stories to a few, but after that, it’s just living life. There is no one asking about the previous dating history or their possible struggles with infertility. One can just accept the journey into parenthood as a natural progression.
I have found that with adoption, so many feel they should contribute to your story, whether asked or not. So many have offered parenting advice once they have the knowledge that I adopted my children. There is almost an unspoken belief that because I adopted, I wouldn’t naturally know how to raise them. The other common misperception I have encountered was I should have all the answers because I willingly sought out to have my children.
I would often think, Who cares about my adoption story? I mean, really, it’s been a challenging and rewarding experience but isn’t that the definition of parenting in general. I slowly became more aware of why and when I should share my story. I felt that if I was to share, it needed to bring an educational piece to some.
Sharing, Is it Caring?
Most of us have heard of the saying that sharing is caring but is it really when you’re telling your adoption story? I have learned to ask myself, will this share benefit my children or myself in any way? Will it help the other person? If I answer yes to these two questions, then it makes sense for me to share. When I first became an adoptive parent, I answered everyone’s questions because I felt that was expected. As though I must somehow justify my blessings and help others understand why my children responded a certain way. I rarely considered how sharing this information impacted my children.
I remember my daughter saying to me, “Mom, why do people care why I was adopted,” and a light went off. I asked her what it felt like to her when I shared our story. She quickly, at the age of 5, said, “Oh, that’s your story.” I sat dumbfounded as I had felt it was ours. I asked her why it was just mine, and she responded,” I have my own story.” It sounded so simple, but for me, I was overwhelmed with guilt. I had never thought to ask my young children how they felt about sharing the story. I was proud to be an adoptive mother of two children. That said, they had special needs, so I often felt I had to explain certain behaviors. At that moment, I realized I was oversharing. See, it’s not that I didn’t care; I just didn’t consider the impact.
Who Should Know?
This becomes tricky as so many people will want to know. I never thought about it as “Who cares about my adoption story?” but moreover, “Who needs to know my story?” Why do they need this information? The first set of people who should know your story and care are medical or mental health providers. It is important to be open and honest about what you are experiencing and give your child a safe place to communicate their wants and needs.
Sometimes it is hard to be as open as the providers may want you to be. You may not have a complete biological family history which can bring up so much for your child and yourself. It is important to teach your children what to expect with filling out medical information as they will have to do this their entire life. When possible, it is important not to hide certain information that you have from the biological family. This includes mental health diagnosis or substance use concerns. Your child will grow up, and if they have this important information, they might make more informed decisions.
Family and friends can become tricky when disclosing your adoption story. They are in your life and care about you. In most cases, they are going to want all the story. It is important to ask yourself, does sharing this information impact my child or my relationship with this person? Not everyone can handle hearing the ups and downs of the adoption story. Some cannot understand the trauma and how it may impact the child’s development. Your child and your story are precious. It will be full of trial and error. You will judge yourself enough as a parent, and you will not benefit from others giving their opinions.
There have been many times it made sense to share my or my child’s story. I have spoken at many adoption support groups to try to normalize the adoption journey. It is hard raising children in general but harder when a child experiences grief and trauma. When I’m there, I bring my authentic self and my story. I don’t just paint adoption as a superhuman experience where nothing goes wrong, and I have all the answers. That would be a huge lie. We were all perfect parents before we had our children. I remember a list of things I would never do, but now it’s down to around ten items.
Yes, telling my story in this way leaves me vulnerable for judgment, but more, it starts a dialogue. It is important that in the adoption community, we support each other. We can bring our children to providers, but talking to another parent is key at the end of the day. They will understand the emotional impact around attachment and repair. I have learned so much from being a speaker and also a participant. I know I do not have all the answers on this parenting journey.
Let me circle back to my daughter. Once I realized that my children had their own stories, I understood it would be helpful to share each other’s stories. I enlisted our attachment therapist to assist me. I wanted my children to feel supported. It was important to have a non-biased reflection to better understand each other. This took time but was worth it in every way. My children were able to see themselves through my eyes. I was able to see my children through their lived experiences. I found out my daughter hated ham steaks and felt it shouldn’t be in her story. I know that sounds weird or funny, but it was very important to her. She also shared her fears about losing her identity. My children are bi-racial, and although I thought I was nurturing their needs, I wasn’t. They wanted to seek out what it felt like to be bi-racial with only some impact from me.
Sharing our stories has made us closer, but this share must be open-ended. Your child will continue to experience life, and it is all part of the story. They will attach, and things will become easier in your relationship. It is important that you check in to make sure they are still aware you are a part of the adoption story. My oldest son recently graduated from high school. He shared that although he was happy, he was also sad because his biological parents and adoptive father (deceased) could not see it. The story never ends. Here is a different perspective on sharing stories.
It took a lot of soul searching to decide to write about adoption while including personal snippets from our story. I wasn’t sure if I was backtracking to oversharing. I sat my children down, and we talked openly about what I could and shouldn’t share. It was important that they understood why I’m so passionate about helping others. They all agreed that it was time as we had a lot of experience that could help someone else.
My children are older and have become open to having me share my journey and allowed me to share certain stories of theirs. My oldest daughter expressed that she wished more families could understand what it feels like to be adopted. She added that so many people had told her after sharing her story that she should be grateful I saved her. She finds that to be most weird as she doesn’t feel saved but loved. There was no saving her from her story, no more than I could save anyone else from their life story. Maybe since our adoption, our chapters look different, but there was always going to be a story.
I asked my children this question when I was assigned this story. They each thought about it but had similar responses. My oldest son said he hopes more people care about our adoption story because maybe fewer children would have to experience what he did. My daughter hopes others want to know about adoption in order to fix the foster care system. My youngest, who is ten years old, simply responded, “I care because it’s the right thing to do.”
Our story involves the foster-to-adopt system. That doesn’t make our story more or less important than any other adoptee, adoptive family, or biological family. We often only think about the adoptee and adoptive family, but it is important the biological family is heard. Over the years, I have been able to hear my children’s biological families’ stories, and it has helped me process my own feelings. They have said it helps when we share our story to know what the children have been through and accomplished. There are so many feelings regarding adoption on all sides. We know that keeping feelings inside only affects the person’s physical and mental health.
In my professional life, I have always encouraged biological families to write their stories or at least be open to having a conversation. This can be with the child but also their family. There often is so much shame and guilt around the decision to have a child placed for adoption. I have always felt such an honor to share witness to how the biological family story led to adoption. I never took an opportunity to learn how others interpret their story because it can help me understand my own bias or feelings.
To answer the question, who cares about my adoption story? It is very simple. I care about my adoption story. My children care about their adoption story. Other adoptive families care about my story and their own. The reality is that when we don’t normalize adoption, trauma, and growth, we do an injustice to the process. Painting adoption as a wonderful experience without any conflict causes real families to struggle and even give up. When I worked as a child protection worker, we would see families rescind their adoption when the child got older. We would look at the cause of this, and often it was the family that felt unsupported. Once we assist these families with the support they need, things will get better. It’s a horrible feeling to feel alone on a journey. No one wants to not have the answers when their child is having a hard time. Had these families received ongoing support, they may have had more skills to handle what was happening. I don’t care how you grew your family; no parent knows everything. When we don’t talk about how hard parenting is, there is an assumption and expectation it is all going smoothly. So if you are finding yourself asking, “Who cares about my adoption story?” Know that I do. So many other adoptive or prospective adoptive parents do. We need to learn from each other and have less judgment. Your story is your own and, when shared appropriately, can make an impact more than you know.Are you ready to pursue adoption? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to connect with compassionate, nonjudgmental adoption specialists who can help you get started on the journey of a lifetime.
Heather Pietras-Gladu has over 20 years in the human services and social worker community. The need for education around adoption and trauma was evident when she worked as a social worker for the Department of Children and Families in Massachusetts. She would use this passion in a most intimate way when she adopted her 3 children from foster care. As long as there is a continued need for education with humor and truth she will continue to be one of the biggest advocates within the adoption community.